Saturday, September 28, 2013

Rocky Mountain National Park--Part One--Trail Ridge Road


I was very excited to visit Rocky Mountain National Park a few weekends ago, and to realize that it is now *almost* in my backyard -- just an hour's drive from where I live! We arrived by taking the Peak to Peak Scenic Highway (see that post on this link) and we stayed two nights right outside the park in a cabin in the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park Center (see that post on this link) Please remember that all photos in this post will enlarge for easier viewing, if clicked on once, and then clicked on again to see them full size.


Rocky Mountain National Park is located in northern Colorado and encompasses an area of 416 square miles (265,769 acres). Among its special features are beautiful mountain vistas, as 114 mountain peaks are above 10,00 feet high, 60 are above 12,000 feet and Longs Peak is at 14,259 feet! The park is full of 300 miles of hiking trails, numerous campsites, meadows, and sub alpine and alpine vistas, lakes and creeks, thousands of varieties of wild flowers and plants, and chances to see wild animals. Rocky Mountain National Park attracts more than three million visitors a year!


We entered the park at the eastern entrance, located on Highway 35, which is 3.5 miles west of Estes Park. Now that my husband is over 62 years of age, he was able to buy a lifetime senior pass at the entrance station, that enables him (and up to three other people riding in his car, no matter what their age) free lifetime admission to any national park in the USA! Our first stop in the park was at the Beaver Meadows Visitor Center, one mile west of the entrance.  There we purchased the wonderful pamphlet that you see above called Guide to Trail Ridge Road, which I highly recommend,  as it greatly increased our appreciation for all we were about to see while driving on the Trail Ridge Road.


All the special interest stops along Trail Ridge Road are numbered "arrowheads" as you see on the bottom of sign above, and the pamphlet gave uninteresting information about each point.


Trail Ridge Road  (US 34) is the highest continuous paved highway in the United States! Covering 48 miles between Estes Park on the east and Grand Lake on the west. Eleven miles of this highway travels above the treeline at elevations near 11,500 feet! It then winds along the tundra to a high point at 12,183 feet!  When driving on this road it is hard not to feel as if one is on top of the world! For every 1,000 feet in elevation gained on the road the temperature drops between 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, as if you had driven 600 miles north! Trail Ridge Road was opened in 1932, paved by 1940, and is very well maintained. It is an engineering feat that was built to be a gentle ride both is ascent and descent, so that you never have to fear the heights you will attain on it.


At scenic point one, along the Trail Ridge Road, was "Deer Ridge Junction." at 8,940 feet elevation. The road follows a route once used by the Ute and Arapaho Indians, as well as earlier prehistoric people.


The lower elevations favors open meadows inter-spaced with strands of ponderosa pines. These broad-crowned trees have a thick, reddish bark that smells like vanilla in the summer.


We were amused to be stopped at one point by a rafter of wild turkeys that leisurely took their time crossing in front of us on the road!


Trail Ridge Road scenic stop number two, is "Hidden Valley," a former ski downhill ski area, at 9,240 feet elevation.  Hidden Valley is today a year round recreational site offering picnicking, hiking, and winter activities.  In winter the snow often lies several feet deep here, and the summers are cool. Subalpine forests of Engelmann spruce and subalpine fir trees live here.


Next stop was stop number 3, "Many Parks Curve," elevation 9, 620 feet.  This stop had a grand panorama of many mountain enclosed meadows, and moraines. Moraines are great heaps of rock debris that glaciers pushed or deposited along their sides between 150,000 and 12,000 years ago.


At this vantage point we could also see multiple rain showers occurring in the distance! 


Excuse the windshield window glare in this photo, but I had to include it in this post, as I wish I could describe the delicious smell of all the pine trees we passed in this corridor along the road. I wish I could find a perfume that smelled as good!  It was so intoxicating!


As we approached the next stop we passed this sign that announced we were two miles above sea level at 10,560 feet!


There were lots of curves in the road as we ascended higher, but again the Trail Ridge Road is smooth and wide, and did not feel dangerous to drive at all.


Stop number four  is "Rainbow Curve," at 10,829 feet elevation. You can see portions of the Trail Ridge Road, Hidden Valley and Horseshoe Park in these photos.  The Fall River flows through Horseshoe Park. The little chipmunk jumped right up on the rock ledge before me, begging for a hand out, but I obeyed the park rules and did not give him any food.


A close up of the alluvial fan of rubble that lies in Horseshoe Park, which can be seen well from this vantage point. The alluvial fan was created by past flood waters that deposited this debris in a matter of hours when a man made earthen dam at Lawn Lake gave way during the early morning of July 15, 1982. The raging waters deposited boulders, gravel and sand onto the floor of Horseshoe Park in a rocky layer 44 feet deep! Sadly, this flood killed three people camping in the park that day. You can read the story about this natural disaster on this link.  This area also suffered damage from the recent heavy rainfall and flooding and some of the campgrounds had to be closed for repair.


As we drove higher and higher.on the Trail Ridge Road....


...the scenery became more and more spellbinding!

 We were leaving the sub-alpine area and entering the alpine section above the tree line!


The next scenic stop was "Forest Canyon Overlook," at 11,716 feet. The stick markers you see along the roadside are there to show snow plow drivers where the road ends when the high snows fall in winter.


Here we had a splendid panorama of Forest Canyon, Hayden Gorge, and Gorge Lakes. The erosive force of glacial ice can be observed in the valley below.


This is also a tundra protected area, where the public is asked to stay on marked trails to preserve the fragile tundra.  The word tundra is a Russian word that means "land of no trees."  Here wind speed can be over 100 miles an hour, and temperatures remain below freezing at least five months of the year. Because of these harsh conditions and short growing season, tundra plant communities take centuries to form. It would take decades to repair the damage that footsteps would do to them!


Since this post is already long, and I have much more to show you, I will save the rest of my photos of Trail Ridge Road for part two and three, as we have many more beautiful stops ahead.  You won't want to miss seeing the next stop, which is part of the "Roof of the Rockies"! There we met some more wild animals and I walked a spectacular tundra trail with sights that are out of this world! Please join me again next post as I know you will enjoy it as much as I am enjoying showing this magnificent park to you!

Click here to read Part Two about the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

Click here to read Part Three about the Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park

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37 comments:

eileeninmd said...

Pat, gorgeous views of the park! The mountains are beautiful. I love the turkeys crossing the road. Thanks for sharing your trip! Have a happy weekend!

Tanna at The Brick Street Bungalow said...

This state HAS to make a person's lifestyle healthier with all the beautiful trails!! ;) Have a wonderful weekend, Pat. blessings ~ tanna

Vee said...

Amazing mountain views! It is incredible to think of being so far above sea level!

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Gorgeous views. It has been many years since we have been.

The Park Service sold me a lifetime pass last year and I was only 57. I was confused why they were offerring it to me, but I bought it anyway.

Kris said...

Hi Pat. I am here to catch up with you. I have to say, your photos are breathtaking! Simply stunning. I so want to visit these places. You should be a photographer for a travel magazine or something, because you sure make us want to go wherever you are!!!!
xo Kris

From the Kitchen said...

Breathtaking! Thanks so much for sharing all this beauty. I loved seeing the leisurely stroll of the turkeys.

Best,
Bonnie

Bill Nicholls said...

Amazing scenery we ave nothing like that here, least not as vast

The Gathering Place said...

Beautiful! Makes me want to get in my car and drive up the canyons here! Mother Nature is quite the artist and you captured her beauty in your photos.

Beverly said...

Pat, to say breathtaking is really an understatement. The beauty is overwhelming.

We hope to be able to visit that part of the country some day.

diane b said...

Thank you for taking me on this wonderful drive. Colorado was one of the states we sadly missed on our big tour. The scenery is breathtaking and your description informative. (I'm not sure you meant , "the pamphlet gave UNINTERESTING information about each point" under photo four.)

steviewren said...

Gosh, your photos are gorgeous Pat, especially the panoramic ones. I love a blue sky, fluffy rolling cloud day.

Betsy Adams said...

Oh how I love that place... Your photos are GORGEOUS... Makes me want to live where you live. BUT--I'll be satisfied to visit on occasion.
Hugs,
Betsy

Lorrie said...

Amazing photos of the Rockies. I could almost smell that piney scent you talked about. And I learned that a bunch of wild turkeys are a rafter! See how educational blogging can be?

Thoughts on Life and Millinery. said...

Love the rain shower in the distance and those crazy turkeys! How do you do with altitude? I usually get headachy over 10,000 feet after a few hours.
Glad you are hitting the road and taking us along too. By the way, how are the aspens doing out your way? Ours are sparatically turning, some turned and dropped in one day and others are still very green. All your recent rain could affect your aspen display.

pam said...

We were so sad to not be able to go up Trail Ridge. We found a pretty drive into the mountains and took a fun partially paved road from Grant to Georgetown. It was gorgeous up there. It has been so many years since I've been up Trail Ridge. I am so glad you posted these. We saw the Fall colors of the Aspen but missed getting to see the elk with all the flood damage. Looking forward to the next two parts of your journey.

SmilingSally said...

No doubt about it, you have moved to a beautiful state! Thanks for sharing this trip.

Happy Blue Monday, Pat!

Shira S. said...

I would spend a lifetime road trip if the view is always like this. Nice photo for BM :)

Neesie said...

Stunning, spectacular, sublime scenery which you've somehow managed to capture brilliantly.
I'm going to have to head back to the start so that I can appreciate them again ;D
Thanks for taking me along...and just think I didn't have to get out of bed to go!
Have a wonderful week and Happy Blue Monday to you too
xoxo

podso said...

Just amazing photos of such beautiful scenery. Yes we got our lifetime passes too and now just want to visit all the parks!

Just a little something from Judy said...

You shared incredible pictures on this trip. It did make me wish I was actually driving on it. When we traveled on it, the snow was lightly falling. I like seeing it in the fall.

Magical Mystical Teacher said...

Nothing beats a blue sky in the West!

Mother in Blue

acreativeharbor.com said...

Magnificent photos of the beautiful Rocky Mountains ~ HBM ~ carol ^_^

edenhills said...

Absolutely stunning! If I didn't have so many animals, I would love to visit Colorado and explore these beautiful mountains.

Jeanne said...

Hi Pat, Your post really shared the beauty of the park. When we were there it was covered in snow. It is amazing how the changing elevation changes the park so much. I did not know the meaning of Tundra until today. I just knew it is "cold and barren." However, there is really growth there. You are the best at including so many facts when you take on a post of this vast interest. Thank you for the time it took you to put this post together. I am looking forward to more.

Note: my sister is doing great. This is the 2nd day that I haven't stayed with her. She will recover completely. We are blessed.
Happy blue Monday.
xo, Jeanne

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

So beautiful...that part of the country! Your post brought back many good memories of our time there.

Great shot of the wild turkeys crossing the road!

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

Love the incredible views (almost as much seeing your pictures as I do seeing them for myself). Your pictures are magnificent. And we've been there so many times, it's been a long while since we picked up that guide and actually read the information (we usually go with our kids and they have been there, of course, even oftener).....Next time, I'm picking up the guide again...I've forgotten some of the information.

That National Park Pass is the best part of getting old(er) ;>)!!!! I can't even tell you how many times we've used it.

Joy H said...

I haven't been to Colorado in many years. I have two nephews living there though that are in the service. Happy Monday!

Barbara said...

Stunning photography, Pat!

GailO said...

So beautiful Pat! Will be watching for part two:)

Noel Morata said...

the country is so expansive, I love all the clouds, it really adds drama to the scene

Willow said...

Now I really really want to visit this national park! Fortunately we too have one of those lifetime national park passes :)

Linda (More Fun Less Laundry) said...

Hi Pat, I will "armchair travel" with you anytime! You are a wonderful tour guide and your photographs just continue to amaze me. This Park looks wonderful and we hope to travel there sometime in a few years when my hubby retires. I am imagining the scent of the vanilla bark and the pines and I feel relaxed and thrilled at the same time. The mountain road looks like it is much better planned than some of those out here, such as the road up Mt. Washington with its cliff edges! I really can't wait to see more of our country. I hope the national parks open soon. Linda

Adventures as a Small Town Mom said...

Absolutely beautiful! And only an hour away from you too - that's awesome :)

kondaveeti Gopi said...

What an excellent capture.... great photos... welcome to fascinating nature..visit and join with me....
http://kondaveetiphotography.blogspot.in/

Tracy said...

Those might mountain majesty views you have there Pat... just stunning! Love seeing the outings you go on in your new home state. :o) ((HUGS))

ladyfi said...

The scenery is majestic and gorgeous.

retriever said...

Great, wonderfull site this park, nice foto for explain this wonderfull place!